Helene Schjerfbeck's The Stubborn Girl is a powerful and enigmatic image of a reserved young girl in which the artist has remained true to her unique interest in depicting the human visage while at the same time challenging the manner in which she represents her ideals. In its masterful use of light and shade and their sometimes harsh juxtaposition within the framework of an outline surrounding the entire figure, it is typical of Schjerfbeck's work of this period. However, it is rare that Schjerfbeck exploits this shading in such a dramatic manner. The duality of the face is reflected in and emphasized by the split tonality of the background, a motif that is also used, to a lesser intensity, in such works as Brown Eyes from 1935-1937 and Self-Portrait with Palette I from 1937. This duality is cleverly resolved through its extension from the face into the background and further by the application of a thicker layer of paint in the hair and in the dark area immediately around the right side of the figure's head.
Around 1935, Schjerfbeck became suddenly interested in Picasso's early works, particularly those from his Blue and cubist periods. It took her several years to get hold of a book containing reproductions and when it finally came it only illustrated works from the late 30s. Despite her disappointment, Schjerfbeck greatly appreciated much (but by no means all) of Picasso's work from this time and she eventually managed to get hold of a book containing illustrations of her favourite of Picasso's early paintings (see H. Ahtela, op. cit., pp. 271-273). The extended facial duality and the suggestion of a planar construction of The Stubborn Girl are perhaps influences that Schjerfbeck picked up from Picasso, while she undoubtedly recognized in the master's art her own chromatic strength and the powerful compositional combination of line and colour that she exploited to such effect throughout the 1930s.
It was around this time also that Schjerfbeck began to become interested in the political situation in her native Finland, mindful that her homeland was in danger of soon losing its freedom. In a letter dated 18 March 1938 she writes to another Finnish artist, Helena Westermarck, 'There is not much fun in the world to think or talk about. There is violence, but I who have never liked politics and never believed in it also now think about the country where I was born, where I grew up, it is my mother country and nobody can take that from me - however, politics and rulers change. I strive for it.' It is possible, given that it was painted only a few months before the outbreak of the Finnish-Russian War in November 1939, that the enigmatic title of the present work refers to Schjerfbeck's new-found sense of political and national responsibility in the face of an external threat. After all, she undoubtedly knew, through reproduction, Picasso's celebrated Guernica, the artist's response to the horror of the German bombing of the Basque city of the same name in April 1937 during the Spanish Civil War. Europe was on the brink of change and The Stubborn Girl's empty, but piercing eyes, so reminiscent of the influence of tribal art on Matisse and Picasso, not only provide a powerful and unnerving focal point for the painting but also perhaps illustrate Schjerfbeck's own obstinacy in the face of this upheaval.